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Kenya's heroes still fighting a battle

Those who fought against British colonisers feel ignored by governments which refused to acknowledge their sacrifices.
Last modified: 12 Dec 2013 04:00

In 1946, impatient with the pace of a peaceful struggle for independence, a group of Kikuyu peasants formed the "forty group", commonly known as the Mau Mau.

They wanted their land back from British colonisers, equality and political freedom.

They started a guerrilla warfare deep in thick forests of Central Kenya. From there they killed their oppressors - the British - and robbed shops, stole firearms, administered oaths and eventually executed those "traitors" who were not ready to follow their fight for freedom.

Their methods were extreme but everyone agrees, were it not for them there would be no independence in 1963.

Fast-forward 50 years later, to 2013. The remaining freedom fighters are now bent with age, their hands hardened by heavy toiling, their faces wrinkled and bodies wasted - and their eyes full of disappointment.

Kenya's heroes are still fighting a battle.

Land is very important to Kenyans. It brings a sense of belonging and freedom fighters who fought so hard for it were promised a share on independence.

Instead, successive governments refused to acknowledge their sacrifice. The land they were promised was dished out selectively - to the elite. The fighters who came out of the forest were ignored.

They still feel betrayed by Jomo Kenyatta who became Kenya's first president and who they say refused to honour his promise to them.

It was not until 2003 that the government of Mwai Kibaki finally formally recognised the fighters. The government lifted a ban that had been imposed on Mau Mau by the colonial government and named a national holiday after them - Mashujaa, or heroes day, on October 20. It's a day that remembers all those who contributed in the struggle.

Their leader, Dedan Kimathi, was immortalised in a statue at the heart of city. He was hanged by the colonial government in 1957.

Then there's a heroes bill that aims to have national heroes like the Mau Mau receive financial support and recognition.

It establishes a criteria for identifying, selecting and honouring national heroes. Sadly, the bill is yet to be passed into law.

There are very few freedom fighters left - many died poor. Those alive say they are still waiting to enjoy the fruits of independence. They are still fighting the battle - in their own way - without much government help.

This year, after many years, 5,000 elderly men and women won a landmark case against the British government. They had sued the UK for torturing them in detention camps during the state of emergency period that started in 1952. The UK finally acknowledged that there was torture in detention camps, apologised and compensated them. The Kenyan government was not involved in this litigation.

Today another group of about 8,000, led by Dedan Kimathi's wife, Eloise Mukami, have also sued the UK for torture. Again the government is not involved.

I went to meet some of the freedom fighters in Meru, Eastern Kenya. M'twarage M'thambo, 85, said it all: "I'm not asking for much from the government - not even the actual land that was taken away from me by the White man or the property that was destroyed. I just want a small piece of land, something I can hand over to my children. Something that will make me say 'it was not all for nothing.'"

He asked me if I could help him meet the president to air his grievances. Obviously I could not.

But this told me that they are holding onto the hope that Uhuru Kenyatta will do what his father failed to.

I hope he does not disappoint.